In an interview on NPR, Charles Blow was discussing his recently published memoir that contains traumatic subject material. He dismissed a great deal of the commentary that has surrounded the subject matter, labeling it “lazy binary.” The binary refers to the digital world of “0’s” and “1’s” that excludes the use of any other terms. The literary practitioner of the lazy binary is guilty of ignoring shades and subtlety, but also of a logic fallacy of insisting that there are two equidistant views of a controversy that resides in the middle between them.
Subtlety is not convenient. In the tl;dr (too long; didn’t read) world of digital media, readers skim rather than read through the text. Subtlety requires paying attention and following an argument step by step as it moves from broad statement to specific points of explanation. Subtlety takes time and focus. Subtlety is the victim of sound bites and twitter. Most would agree that the world does not need more sound bites.
Subtlety has a long history of being ignored or denigrated but the logic fallacy is actually more pernicious. This insistence that there are two equally worthy opposing views on any given assumption is a favorite tool of partisans, ideologues, fanatics, and hell bent capitalists. In a given circumstance, there may only be one legitimate point of view but an opposing view is given equal billing because it seems fairer or reads better. Given a forum, a self-serving ideologue can do a lot of damage.
I feel like we are discussing elementary school. Subtlety does not exist because the young minds have not developed enough. The idea that a controversy may have more than one side is also an early academic grades lesson too. So is the corollary that not all sides are equal.
Why then do we have to constantly remind ourselves now of these early lessons? Lazy binary, indeed.